ATLANTA — Charlie Culberson had a good feeling after he fouled off a couple of pitches from Seth Lugo.
“When you get a pinch-hit at-bat, you have to be ready to hit, especially if it’s somewhere close to the zone,” he said. “Luckily enough I got one over the plate and put a good swing on it.”
Culberson’s pinch-hit, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Atlanta Braves a 4-3 victory over the New York Mets in the first game of a doubleheader on Monday.
Lugo (1-1) gave up Nick Markakis’ sacrifice fly in the eighth and walked Johan Camargo to begin the ninth before Culberson took him deep.
Devin Mesoraco gave the Mets a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth with a solo homer off Shane Carle (3-1), but Lugo’s performance wiped out seven strong innings from Jacob deGrom as the Mets lost their fourth straight and fell to .500 for the first time this season.
New York’s bullpen has a 10.65 ERA over its past four games and just 15 saves in 24 chances overall this season. Mets relievers dropped to 10-23 when they allow a run.
“We got exactly what we wanted out of deGrom,” New York manager Mickey Callaway said. “We just didn’t get what we wanted out of Lugo.”
Atlanta improved to 31-21, second best in the NL, and has won 44 games in its last at-bat since manager Brian Snitker took charge on May 16, 2016, most in the majors over that span. The Braves lead the NL this year with 95 runs scored in the seventh inning or later.
Rain caused a 34-minute delay in middle of the sixth inning.
DeGrom pitched six scoreless innings before allowing Tyler Flowers’ homer to make it 2-1 in the seventh. Throwing a season-high 115 pitches, he allowed five hits and three walks and struck out eight, lowering his NL-leading ERA to 1.52.
DeGrom has given up just two runs over his past 40 1/3 innings, a span of seven starts in which he has a 0.45 ERA. He pitched out of a jam after Flowers homered. The Braves had runners on first and third with no outs, but didn’t score.
“I didn’t want to come out of that game,” deGrom said. “I’ve been fortunate and able to pitch out of jams this season and I felt like I was going to be able to get through that inning.”
Mesoraco had a role in all three New York runs. He drew a bases-loaded walk off Max Fried to make it 1-0 in the first and singled and scored from first on Luis Guillorme’s double to put the Mets up 2-0 in the fourth.
Fried, making his first start this season and the second of his career, gave up four hits, four walks and two runs — one earned — with six strikeouts in five innings.
DeGrom worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth, striking out Preston Tucker and Camargo.
“We’ve been struggling to score runs and haven’t been hitting with guys on,” Snitker said. “We didn’t today. We had an opportunity to blow this game open a couple of times, but that’s what good pitching does.”
WHEN IT MATTERS MOST
Of Culberson’s seven career homers, three have ended a game. He also has three career pinch-hit homers.
GAFFES ON THE BASES
The Mets made two base running mistakes in the fifth when Fried and first baseman Freddie Freeman picked off Michael Conforto and Jose Bautista was picked off in a rundown from first. Fried became the first Braves pitcher since Kevin Millwood in 1999 to have two pickoffs in the same inning.
Mets: RHP A.J. Ramos and INF Wilmer Flores were placed on the 10-day disabled list while RHP Hansel Robles and C Kevin Plawecki were activated from rehab assignments. Ramos, sidelined with a right shoulder strain, and Flores, out with lower back soreness, have returned to New York for further evaluation.
Braves: LF Ronald Acuna Jr. was placed on the disabled list with a mild ACL sprain in his left knee and bruises to his knee and lower back. Acuna’s leg buckled while running out a grounder Sunday in Boston. He fell on his back after crossing the bag, then rolled over on his front side with what looked to be a gruesome injury. The 20-year-old surprisingly walked off the diamond, declining a wheelchair.
Bautista went 1 for 2 with two walks in his first game back at SunTrust Park since the Braves released him on May 20. Bautista is hitting .455 in his first six games with the Mets. The former Toronto slugger had a .143 average in 12 games with Atlanta.
Mets: LHP P.J. Conlon, called up from Triple-A Las Vegas to start the second game, allowed three runs and four hits in 3 2/3 innings of his career debut May 7 at Cincinnati.
Braves: RHP Brandon McCarthy (5-2, 4.67 ERA) will make his fourth start against the Mets. He is 1-2 with a 2.41 ERA in 18 2/3 innings against New York.